STEAM+ Robotics Unit Expands to 1st Grade

The mission of Wheaton Christian Grammar School is to educate, train, and nurture children for godliness and excellence, equipping them to engage and transform their world for Jesus Christ. One of the ways we accomplish this is by continually enhancing our academic curriculum to prepare our students for the world we are living in. This is why we created the position of a STEM Director who would be conducting STEAM+ specific units and lessons throughout the school year to our different grade levels. STEAM+ stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. At WCGS, we added the “+” because of the biblical worldview integration that takes place in all our subjects, viewing them through the lens of the Bible. 

This year, we wanted to expand our STEAM+ program into the younger grades to spark curiosity and innovative thinking amongst the students. Our 1st graders participated in a robotics and engineering unit this spring led by our STEM Coordinator, Mrs. Lauriat. The unit took place over six days. You can read more about each part of the STEAM+ model and how it relates to this unit in the chart at the end of this article.

On the first day, the students started out by learning the engineering process (define the problem, plan a solution, make a model, test the model, reflect, and redesign) by reading the book Iggy Peck Architect. They discovered their problem – Iggy and his classmates are trapped after a footbridge collapsed! The students then had to take the scenario to build a bridge that can hold the class, or in their case, four bears so they can get across. 

The students only had 15 minutes to build the bridge so that it wouldn’t collapse and only had these materials to create it:

  • 10 inches of tape
  • 6 craft sticks
  • 4 notecards
  • 4 straws
  • 4 pipe cleaners
  • 1 kleenex
  • 2 blocks

After receiving their instructions, they were put into teams and began designing their bridges on paper. Once it was designed, they built the bridge and tested it to see if the four bears would stay on.

After spending two days on engineering, the students began classes on coding and robotics with the help of members of the WCGS Robotics Team. To start, they used “Let’s Go Code,” a coding activity that lets the students learn in a linear way as they become the robot, create a code, and then model how it works on squares they place on the ground. Once they learned the basics of coding, the students upgraded to a robot mouse and simple obstacle set-up cards that helped them independently determine a code that accomplished a path. As they gained more experience with the robot mouse, they were given harder set-up cards that would make them have to determine a more complex code to test and see if it would allow their mouse to accomplish its path.

One of the unique aspects of WCGS is the instruction of the healthy use of technology. For this unit, our first graders used the app “Seesaw” on the WCGS classroom iPads to document their bridge design and share what they were learning with their teachers and parents, as the app allows them to view and comment on the students’ work. They continued to use the Seesaw app for the robotics lessons as they learned about coding. They filmed their mouse completing a path and uploaded it to the app for their parents to view.

According to Mrs. Lauriat, the response to this unit has been overwhelmingly positive. Parents have enjoyed commenting and being a part of their child’s education through the app, and the students have loved learning in a new way. Here’s what they had to say: 

“I liked pretending to be the robot!”

“I liked doing coding. I learned how to make a bridge. Jesus is like the bridge to God!”

“I learned how to code and I liked when we worked with our partners and helped each other out.”

“I learned that you can make bridges if you use your imagination.”

“It taught me how to video and stuff like that! It was really neat to use the code cards. It was really fun to do robotics.”

Teacher: “Did you have fun learning robotics with Mrs. Lauriat?” Student: “Of course I did!”

This unit is going to continue every year in 1st grade, with the goal of adding a STEAM+ unit that incorporates engineering and robotics throughout all elementary grades. The plan is to introduce a 2nd grade unit next year, with a 3rd grade unit following the year after. All our grades have STEAM+ units integrated into its science curriculum.

“Research suggests that if a girl is not introduced or inspired to pursue a STEAM field by 2nd grade, she most likely will not pursue that type of career,” says Mrs. Lauriat. “We want all our students to have a strong foundation in the early grades in these areas.” 

WCGS was blessed to have a donor who wanted to support our STEAM+ initiative and make an impact on these students. We wish you could have been in the classroom while the students were working together to build the bridges and codes. Their collaboration with each other and longing for learning in these subjects was precious to see. We pray that as the Lord develops their gifts and talents, they can use what they learn to build up the kingdom of God. 

Definition Biblical Worldview First Grade Application
Science The study of the natural world Science comes from God! It is by using science that we study His creation and learn more about His character and nature Medical advances in robotics and learning how God has gifted humans and made us unique
Technology Includes any product made by humans to meet a want or need Technology is a gift to help God’s people Robot mouse and Seesaw app
Engineering Design process used to solve problems We use our God-given creativity to engineer and build things Design a bridge
Art Writing, painting, music, and physical education We follow in the footsteps of the ultimate Creator and Designer Drawing a bridge and writing code
Mathematics The language of numbers, shapes, and quantities The precise order of mathematics points us to the One who ordered the universe, the God of the Bible Precision with code
+Bibilical Worldview God’s Word provides the framework through which we can view the world We view and interpret the world through God’s lens Each person has been given gifts and abilities to be used for God and others. (Romans 12: 6-8)
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